Wallowa County became the nation’s latest jurisdiction to pass a Second Amendment preservation ordinance, a victory for local gun rights activists who argued the measure was urgently needed to counteract the overreach of proposed gun controls after a school shooting at Newtown, Conn.
Monday night at Enterprise’s Cloverleaf Hall, the Wallowa County Board of Commissioners continued the ordinance’s public hearing that was originally convened Nov. 4 and continued on Nov. 25. Both of those gatherings were held at the Wallowa County Courthouse. By the conclusion of the Nov. 25 hearing segment, consensus among activists and commissioners was that the proposed measure should be revised before resuming the hearing.
Roughly 70 people showed up for the concluding installment Dec. 16 at 7 p.m. After Commissioner Paul Castilleja read aloud the ordinance’s latest version, which incorporated even some changes made that day, Chad Nash, a leader in the campaign, explained the reasoning behind some of his choices in final language.
Several other residents spoke briefly in support of the ordinance. No one spoke against it.
Also prominent during the hearing was activist Leo Castillo from neighboring Union County, where Castillo’s role has been similar to Nash’s role here. Earlier this year, Union County passed a Second Amendment support resolution, an easier sell to public officials because it doesn’t raise enforcement issues by setting forth penalties. Wallowa County’s ordinance, by contrast, establishes maximum civil fines of $2,000 for an individual, and $4,000 for a corporation found in violation of the ordinance.
Wallowa County is apparently among only a handful of counties to pass a gun rights ordinance, but advocates contacted for this story say they’re not sure of the actual number. A significantly larger number of counties have a Second Amendment resolution.
At the outset of Monday’s hearing, Commissioner Castilleja signaled the county board’s intention to take action on the proposed law that evening. “We hope that we can get this done tonight and voted on,” Castilleja said. A moment later he added, “I hope that everybody here tonight is in favor.”
When he again held the floor about 25 minutes later, Castilleja urged Paige Sully, the board’s counsel, to weigh in on the ordinance’s latest version. “I’d like for you to say anything that has been added to it, if you’re in favor of it or against it, and we can go from there - and those proposed changes in addition that he talked about,” Castilleja said, referring, at least in part, to wording Sully had previously recommended for deletion but Nash had only minutes ago proposed restoring to the distributed draft.
“Well, Commissioner Castilleja, not having had the opportunity to really review them, no, I don’t think they’re a good idea,” Sully answered. “Most of them simply reinsert language that I recommended that you remove.”
Later in the meeting, activist Castilla returned to the topic of the newly reinserted words, reading to the crowd part of an email he had received from an attorney with the Goldwater Institute, a conservative issues organization based in Phoenix, Ariz. The attorney argued for restoring the ordinance’s originally included “recitals” - connected parts of a descriptive account that often begin with the word, “whereas.”
“The recitals are critically important as an educational and political statement,” the Institute’s lawyer wrote. “If you eliminate them, you muffle the noise you’re trying to make. If you change them, I would only eliminate the religious-sounding recitals because those might be problematic in the 9th Circuit.”
As the hearing wound down around 8:10 p.m., the three-member county board unanimously passed Commissioner Susan Roberts’ motion to adopt the ordinance, and the hall erupted in applause.
According to Roberts, the new county law becomes effective in 30 days.
The ordinance calls upon Wallowa County’s sheriff, “at his or her discretion,” to “render an advisory opinion as to whether any federal, state or local regulation affecting firearms, firearms accessories and ammunition” violates either the U.S. or Oregon state constitution “and report said findings to the public, on a case by case basis as the Sheriff may deem appropriate.”
Violators “may be made a defendant in a civil proceeding by the county,” the law’s penalties section states.
Nash told the Chieftain that Stewards of the Wallowas, a local organization championing the ordinance, has been interested in the project for longer than a year. The drive gained greater impetus, though, during the political backlash following the Aurora, Colo., and Newtown, Conn., shooting tragedies.
There were “a lot of knee-jerk reactions after those tragedies took place,” Nash said of gun control proposals that emerged immediately after Newtown. “None of us want to see these tragedies. They’re horrible. But at the same time, we don’t want to step on that slippery slope.”